Lectionary #119, John 6: 51-58
“Wisdom has built her house, she has set up her seven columns; she has dressed her meat, mixed her wine, yes, she has spread her table…Come, eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed!” (Prov 9:1-2,5). “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord” (Ps 34:9); “Do not get drunk on wine, in which lies debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit” (Eph 5:18); “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life…This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever” (John 6:54,58).
From the above quotations we can see that images of eating and drinking dominate the readings this week; some are meant figuratively and others are to be taken literally, and still others are intended sacramentally. In each case, these references to food and drink remind us of the incarnate nature of our faith—Christianity is not a mere collection of abstract concepts but a personal and all-encompassing reality which touches on every aspect of human life and which can thus be related by means of scenes borrowed from everyday life.
It is obvious that food and drink sustain life. If we think about it most important events in life are associated with eating and drinking: weddings, funerals, family gatherings, business meals, traveling and vacationing all include dining as a central element. It is not surprising then that food has long factored into religious worship and practice as well: food offerings, fasting, holiday banquets, and special foods have all long been associated with many different religious traditions. The most powerful connection between food and faith for Catholics is found in the mass, in the liturgy of the Eucharist, which is itself reflective of the Jewish Passover meal from which it took its inspiration.
We bring bread and wine to the altar, and having reverenced our Lord at the consecration and affirmed the Eucharistic prayer through our great “Amen” we receive back what we offered, changed now into the Body and Blood of Christ. There is something immensely profound happening here: just as eating a business meal implies that one has struck a deal or been hired, and sharing in a wedding banquet means that for better or for worse we are now “family”, so too participating in the Eucharist has a tremendous significance: it means that we are committed for life—and death—to all that Jesus is and all that he does for us.
The decisive and divisive meaning of the Eucharist is clear from today’s gospel reading from John 6, where we hear that even many of Jesus’ most devoted followers could not believe his teaching regarding the “Bread of Life” which he promised to give them. The incarnation, symbolized in the Eucharist, was just too much for some of Jesus’ disciples to fathom. For our part, seeing in the realness of the bread and wine the realness of God’s love in condescending and becoming incarnate for our salvation, we consume the Eucharist with reverence and pray that we may become that living Body of Christ which we consume.
Instead of the pattern of disbelief seen among the disciples, or the dissolute living we are warned about today in the letter to the Ephesians, we who share in the Bread of Life are called to live by the advice of Lady Wisdom in Proverbs: “Forsake foolishness that you may live; advance in the way of understanding” so that as we read in Psalm 34, we might “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord”!
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.